Active Shooter: Hardcore Questions & Harder Answers (Learn More, Videos)

Guest OpEd by Stanley I. White, IACSP, ATO

On December 2, 2015, a two-person team consisting of shooters Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik (both husband and wife) conducted an armed assault on the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, CA.

Their attack killed 14 and injured 21 individuals.

These individuals were found to be self-radicalized Islamic extremists executing a terrorist attack on the U.S. homeland.

However, their actions did not only confirm the present dangers of Islamic terrorism at home, but also brought the issue of active shooters back to the forefront of security discussions nationwide.

(Armed with long guns and dressed in tactical gear, Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik entered an office holiday party at a San Bernardino conference center on Wednesday morning and opened fire. They killed 14 people and wounded 17 others. Then they fled. Hours later, they both died in a gunfight with police on the streets of San Bernardino. Courtesy of Mashable News and YouTube. Posted on Dec 3, 2015)

Whether it be a disgruntled worker(s), a mentally unstable individual or a domestic/foreign terrorist(s), an active shooter can be found just about anywhere; a movie theatre, a school, a clinic, a church, a music concert etc., thus driving home the need for a personal plan of action that starts with the individual.

This piece will mainly focus on the workplace, however, a personal plan should be flexible and able to be adapted to any venue.

No one is better equipt to protect you then you are in a time of emergency. If you have no idea how to protect yourself you will be of no use to anyone else.

One present day school of thought states that you have a better chance of being struck by lightning than being killed in an active shooter or a terrorist attack.

However, after the Paris and San Bernardino attacks, it seems lightning is moving closer and closer to home every day.

Aaron Alexis marched through the Navy Yard going door to door with a sawed-off shotgun in his hand on Sept 16, 2013, fatally shooting 12 people and injured three others in a mass shooting at the headquarters of the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) inside the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. It was the second-deadliest mass murder on a U.S. military base, behind only the 2009 Fort Hood shooting. (Image courtesy of the FBI)
Aaron Alexis marched through the Navy Yard going door to door with a sawed-off shotgun in his hand on Sept 16, 2013, fatally shooting 12 people and injured three others in a mass shooting at the headquarters of the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) inside the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. It was the second-deadliest mass murder on a U.S. military base, behind only the 2009 Fort Hood shooting. (Image courtesy of the FBI)

The key to engaging any challenge, especially a life or death experience, depends on a survival mindset.

One method that allows an individual to work toward the needed mindset is to ask one’s self hardcore questions and look deep inside for truthful answers.

Before one can begin to train for surviving an active shooting incident, an individual should ask themselves how far they will go to survive.

Some hard questions should include:

  • Can you quickly move through an area with the bodies of wounded and dead colleagues?
  • Can you block out the sounds of gunfire as well as moans and screams of fellow workers as you flee to safety?
  • Can you conceal yourself and remain silent while an active shooter moves nearby searching for additional victims even when wounded yourself?
  • Can you lay motionless on a blood stained floor and play dead among the bodies of your colleagues?
  • Can you use the dead body of a colleague to shield yourself from incoming bullet rounds?
  • Can you break and jump out of a window to safety?
  • Can you engage an active shooter with an impromptu weapon (a coffee pot, fire extinguisher, umbrella, stapler, chair, etc.) and use lethal force?

No one can guarantee fully how they will react when a life or death crisis comes into their world.

However, if you search yourself and evaluate your possible responses, and you will be way ahead of the individual that ignores such introspection.

These are the hard questions that you should ask yourself and meditate on to establish a survival mentality if God forbid you find yourself in an active shooter situation.

(Image courtesy of YouTube)
(Image courtesy of YouTube)

Through the 1950’s to1970’s public school students performed “duck and cover” exercises for an atomic bomb attack by getting under their desks.

Every public school and many businesses conduct fire drills.

Since Columbine, large numbers of public schools have adopted active shooter programs.

The thrust of this piece is directed toward what the individual can do to increase their odds at surviving an active shooter incident.

A personal protective plan should not replace an agency or corporate active shooter plan but work in conjunction with it.

It should also be noted that having a personal plan for yourself and loved ones may be of great value if you find yourself in active shooter incident outside the work place at such venues as a mall, concert, sporting event etc.

The right mind set is key to preparing yourself prior a crisis as well as during.

The next area of preparation involves understanding the what options are available during an active shooter attack.

These options are escape, conceal and engage (ECE).

The backbone of each of these 3 options are based on knowing your work area and performing a thorough assessment; this will allow you to maximize your surroundings to survive the shooter’s assault.


ESCAPE is the first option to pursue during an active shooter event.

You need to have at least 2 routes of exit from scene of the attack.

Despite Two-Thirds of Organizations Naming Active Shooter as a Top Threat, 79 Percent Are Not Fully Prepared – and More Than 60 Percent Run No Readiness Drills, Survey Says
Despite Two-Thirds of Organizations Naming Active Shooter as a Top Threat, 79 Percent Are Not Fully Prepared – and More Than 60 Percent Run No Readiness Drills, Surveys Say

Preparation prior to an active shooter event will rely on the following:

  • Know how long it takes to move from your work area to a pre-designated safe zone
  • Know your physical level of fitness as it regards to being able to run or crawl to safety
  • Know areas of concealment vs areas of cover
    • Areas of concealment will provide visual shielding from a shooter but will not provide ballistic shielding.
    • This means if you are behind a wooden door, cubical partition, window with closed blinds the shooter can shoot through these barriers and kill you
    • Areas of cover provide visual shielding and partial to complete ballistic shielding
  • Locate all windows that can be opened or broken to provide a means of escape 
    • Some large windows cannot be broken from a direct center mass impact and have to be broken from the lower corners
  • Be familiar with all fire doors and fire escapes
  • Know the areas inside your workplace where you can and cannot receive cell phone reception

If a shooting should begin – LEAVE your personal effects except your cell phone (turn your phone to vibrate).

  • Locate where the shots are coming from and move away to safety
  • Time is of the essence, move quickly, stay low and help those you can
  • Individuals you can not help advise them to remain quiet and that you are going to get help
    • This will probably be one of the hardest decisions you will have to ever make

You also must realize when the police and tactical team members arrive, they are not there to render first aid to the wounded, answer questions or personally escort you out of the building.

Their first and foremost duty is to stop the shooter.

When you encounter them during your evacuation (i.e. escape), keep your hands up and visible and follow their directions.


Conceal refers to hiding on location due to the fact you can not safely leave the scene or because you are wounded.

Preparation for such and option requires some of the following steps.

Know your work place by identifying:

  • Areas of concealment and areas of cover you can completely hide behind
  • Know what nearby rooms contain doors that lock from the inside
  • Familiarize yourself with items that can used to barricade doors
    • Especially rooms with doors that do not have locks – such as tables, chairs, sofas, copy machines, vending machines etc
  • Find out if you can fit under office desks and conference tables
    • Determine what office furniture can be overturned and used as a source of shielding

If you find yourself in the middle of an active shooting incident and have to conceal yourself:

  • First turn your phone to vibrate
  • Locate the direction where the gunfire is coming from, and seek cover in a room if possible
  • Turn off lights, lock/barricade the door, draw the blinds, remain still and if possible quietly call the authorities for help and instructions
    • Visually scan the room for any impromptu weaponry to engage the shooter if he or she attempts to breach the door
      • Note: if you find yourself in an open space or outside with little to no cover and the shooter is moving amongst his fallen victims you may have to lay prone on the ground and pretend to be dead

(RUN. HIDE. FIGHT.® Surviving an Active Shooter Event Courtesy of Ready Houston and YouTube)


Engage refers to physically confronting the shooter with lethal force.

The combination of surprise and aggressive force are needed when using this option.

The shooter must be countered with an incapacitating assault to stop his or her advance.

Preparation for this option involves locating common items that can be used as weapons in a hand to hand combative situation these may include:

  • A fire extinguisher which can be used as a blunt force weapon to attack the head, face, arms, knees and lower back region
  • A glass vase, coffee cup or coffee pot can be used as a blunt force weapon to impact the head and face
    • Once broken the sharp glass can be used to attack the eyes and throat of the shooter
      • Hot coffee or water to the face can also be used to temporarily blind/distract the shooter
  • Any type of furniture on wheels or that can be slide across the floor can be used to ram the attacker’s legs and knock him or her to the floor
  • A desk paperweight, letter opener, stapler, ink pen, sharpened pencil, wall mounted picture in glass frame, packaged ream of copy paper and other typical office equipment or supplies can be turned into a weapon

The combative engagement of an active shooter is a last option and has to be taken with the utmost conviction.

This is your last chance at survival you have to make it count.

Truth to be told, if you are a trained individual and armed with impromptu weaponry, your odds still remain slim if you engage an armed gunman by yourself.

Surprise and extreme force are key.

  • If you are by yourself, you must control the attacker’s firearm and direct it away from yourself while continuing attacking him or her
  • The use of blunted and or edged weapons to vital areas such as the eyes, throat, groin, knees etc., are crucial if the attacker is wearing some form of body armor
  • If a number of individuals swarm the shooter, someone must take control of the firearm and direct it away from the group
    • Note: during the struggle the weapon may discharge; keep control of it and keep fighting.
  • This makes the strong case for receiving some form of reality based self defense instruction that teaches the use of fists, elbows, knee and leg strikes, grappling and the usage of modern weapons (i.e., firearms).

You don’t want to get into the fight of your life and find out you don’t know how to fight.

All too many people today as well as agency and corporate management feel we are in our secure facility; we have a written shooter plan, armed guards, police, state of the art security systems etc. 

In 2014 two Pennsylvania State Troopers were ambushed in front of their barracks by Eric Frein.

(Courtesy of TomoNews US and YouTube. Posted on Sep 18, 2014)

This assault claimed the life of Cpl. Bryon Dickson and seriously injuries Trooper Alex Douglass.

In 2009 and 2014 active shooters (military personnel Major Nidal Hasan and Army Specialist Ivan Lopez) who, in separate incidents launched attacks on the grounds of Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas.

IACSPHard targets and soft targets are all the same when determined terrorist, disgruntled employees and mentally unhinged individuals become active shooters.

Overseas in the Middle East, police and military bases are often targets of active shooters.

In short realize that having security and plans are good for your workplace and increase your odds of survival, but having a personal plan that can work with the  existing protocols of your agency as well as stand alone when outside the workplace are even better.

The best person for protecting you in an emergency is you.

Ask the hardcore questions of yourself then train how to react and survive during an active shooting incident.

About the Author:

Stanley I. White
Stanley I. White

Stanley I. White is currently the CI Advisor for the IACSP as well as a defensive tactics instructor who has trained personnel from numerous local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.

He is a certified Anti- Terrorism Officer and also holds an active membership with the AFIO.

He is also an internationally published author on the topics of personal security and counter terrorism.  Mr White can be reached for comment at